Conservative group retreats on "stand your ground"

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A conservative group under pressure for spreading “stand your ground” self-defense laws in the United States said on Tuesday it is abandoning that part of its work to focus on the economy.

The decision by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) came after a months-long public lobbying campaign that successfully persuaded large U.S. corporations, including the Coca-Cola Co, Kraft Foods Inc and PepsiCo Inc, to cut ties to the organization.

A coalition of liberal advocates targeted ALEC for its support of the self-defense laws, one of which is at the center of the Florida shooting that killed unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February.

ALEC, which serves as a forum for corporations, mostly Republican state lawmakers and lobbyists to discuss model legislation, drew additional scrutiny in the past six months for promotion of laws that require photo identification to vote. ColorOfChange, a liberal advocacy group for black Americans, said the voting laws disadvantage the poor and minorities.

ALEC will disband its committee that works on “public safety and elections,” the group said in a news release, in order to focus on legislation that would spur economic growth, which is “why ALEC exists.”

The group said it still recognizes the importance of non-economic issues, but “we must concentrate on initiatives that spur competitiveness and innovation and put more Americans back to work.”

ColorOfChange, which led the public campaign to get companies to quit ALEC, said today that the group’s decision does not go far enough because stand-your-ground laws have been adopted in more than 20 states, and voter-ID laws are also widely in place.

Corporate members should hold ALEC “accountable for the damage it has caused nationwide,” said Rashad Robinson, ColorOfChange’s executive director.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has also cut ties to ALEC in recent weeks.

Other members, such as Reynolds American Inc, stood by their work with ALEC, saying they had nothing to do with self-defense or election laws and were members so they could pursue legislation related to their businesses.

Reporting by David Ingram; Editing by Prudence Crowther